There has been an 11% rise in EU applicants this year, according to the University’s recently created Brexit Strategy Office.
2417 students applied to study at Oxford in 2016, up from 2169 in 2015. Between 2011 and 2014, meanwhile, the number of applicants stayed between 1940 and 1961.
In an interview with the Oxford Student and Cherwell yesterday, Head of Brexit Strategy Professor Alastair Buchan said:
“I’m pleased to be able to tell you, I think we’ve seen a 10% increase in our international application rate from the EU.”
He added: “We need to use that as a yardstick and continue to push what we have on offer to see if we can drive that up.”
By contrast, EU applications to Cambridge were down 14 per cent this year. A spokesman for the University said that the university was “disappointed” and that the figures reflected the “considerable uncertainty” felt by EU students.
Prof. Buchan also denied recent rumours that Oxford was looking to establish a Parisian campus, claiming that there had been no meetings between his team and European colleagues:
“I think the story was essentially that there were some people that visited – they came to various places including London, Warwick and Oxford, and I think they were promoting the idea that there may be this facility in Paris that they would attract people to.
“I think they were generating the story and wanting the publicity, but there was no conversation about Oxford locating onto this consortium of universities, this campus in the North of Paris.”
Prof. Buchan explained that Oxford’s Brexit Strategy Team has been advising “Secretaries of State, Ministers, MPs, the Select Committee, civil servants”, and described some of the problems it has faced so far:
“Nobody really thought through in the leadup to the referendum vote what the implications of a leave vote would be,” he said. “And so the people parachuted into a new government department don’t know about students, don’t know about research funding, know nothing about the regulatory affairs to do with things like Euratom or to do with drug regulation or to do with air traffic control, or actually the nuts and bolts of how you make data or IP work across the EU.”
“It’s been working for 30 or 40 years in a very progressive way, and now people are saying that we’ll just have to do it the way we did it back in 1973/1974. None of you were around in 1973 or 1974, and I can tell you that things didn’t work that well in 1973 or 1974.”
The new department in question, the Department for Exiting the European Union, was established in 2016 following the referendum and is currently thought to employ about 300 people in London.
Prof. Buchan described the concerns felt by the departments of the University:
“They’re most worried about their staff, they’re worried about students being able to come, they’re worried about their staff being secure and confident and having what they need in terms of what we all take for granted in this country, which is free education, free healthcare, free social care.”
“I don’t think the leave campaign were worrying about student numbers or teaching. I don’t think they were worrying about licensing doctors or the regulation of drugs. I think it was all to do with the freedom of movement of people and services and capital, and it wasn’t to do with the day to day running of the things that we do. If the issue had been about universities, we wouldn’t have had the referendum in the first place.”
However, he also highlighted the opportunities that leaving the EU could bring about:
“I think it’s about first of all being really upbeat, it’s about being attractive. It’s about using the Brexit challenge to figure out perhaps what we’ve not done as well as we could have. And how do we really, really get out there and attract students not just from the UK or from Europe but from around the world? How do we actually use this as a challenge to continue to improve the quality of people applying here.”
“It’s about using the Brexit challenge to figure out perhaps what we’ve not done as well as we could have.”
More broadly, Prof. Buchan laid out the University’s current approach to the UK’s plans to leave the EU, claiming that it must be careful not to pursue strategies incompatible with the government’s position:
“If we create solutions that suit us, the risk is that we undermine a negotiating position. If we’re critical of government and we say, ‘That’s all bad,’ or, ‘You’re doing something that’s detrimental’, that doesn’t help them. And if we don’t work with government, it won’t help us.”
“We’re not political here – we’re here to provide advice and show them what the information is and help steer them.”
Despite this desire to remain apolitical, Prof. Buchan was clear on his own feelings towards the campaign to leave the EU:
“I voted to remain, that was my feeling all the way through. I became really quite alarmed by the media, by the whole populist feeling that we couldn’t trust experts, the feeling that we’d somehow failed – I was quite alarmed by that.”
He added: “I’m really fussed about the ability of universities to educate and to advise, for evidence to be acceptable, and am absolute horrified by the demagoguery and populism and racism that we’re beginning to see in elections.”